Port Discovery is designed to be more than a place to climb a tower or build a wind-driven machine. It is also aspiring to be a place where disadvantaged children will have opportunities for learning and cultural enrichment, where exhibits will be tied to school curricula and where visitors can learn where to pursue their interests beyond the museum.
In defining its role as a community resource, Port Discovery follows in the path of children's museums across the country.
"It's been that way from the beginning - children's museums have been committed to serving all families from the get-go," says Andrew Ackerman, director of the Children's Museum of Manhattan and president of the Association of Youth Museums board.
Port Discovery's alliance with the community began as soon as the museum launched its quest for an identity. Four years ago, the museum enlisted children from across the state to serve as its Youth Advisory Council. Through a detailed survey and informal feedback, these children, ages 6 to 12, advised Port Discovery's creative team on "how to figure what kids are all about," says Nora Moynihan, the museum's community partnerships coordinator.
The museum has several outreach programs planned and under way.
In a partnership with the Junior League, Polaroid and the American Visionary Art Museum, Port Discovery has already established a "Dream Catchers" after-school program for three Baltimore schools - Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Leith Walk and Mother Seton Academy. The 65 participants, ages 9 to 12, meet weekly in their schools with Junior League members and Moynihan to work on dream-related projects.
For an African heritage theme, for example, kids made dolls out of plastic water bottles and African fabric. Then they wrote stories about their dolls' dreams. For another project, kids wrote a message to a respected member of their community, placed it in a Styrofoam cup, wrapped it in yarn and gave it to that person.
Port Discovery is seeking corporate sponsorship for another program to reach 800 children a week. Four days a week, 200 kids will be brought in from city recreation centers, Police Athletic League recreation centers and boys and girls clubs in underprivileged communities.
Moynihan envisions activities such as: The children receive backpacks bearing a quote, then spend the afternoon exploring questions raised by that quote. A quote may lead, for instance, to a discussion about times the children have experienced doubt and what could be done to banish that doubt.
During its brief history, Port Discovery has striven to cultivate a relationship with its neighbor to the east, Jonestown, a community beset by poverty and crime.
Moynihan hopes to involve Jonestown children in an oral-history project that will collect the memories of residents of the Flag House Courts projects, soon to be razed.
Port Discovery's coordinator of school services, Mary L. McCrea, has sent brochures to school systems across Maryland touting the museum as a school-trip destination.
Moreover, lesson plans can be tied to each exhibition. For example, "Adventure Expeditions" has a companion lesson plan that delves into deciphering Egyptian language and hieroglyphics, and the Egyptian numbers system.
In addition to connecting to schools, Port Discovery will connect to other Baltimore-area resources. In the "What Next" exhibition, visitors can discover where else in the community their interests lead. Want to know more about physics? Check out the Maryland Science Center. Want to see a real mummy? The Walters Art Gallery is the place to go. What Next will also feature presentations by area museums.
At the "Pratt Exploration Center," an Enoch Pratt Free Library branch, visitors can research popular kids' topics.
On the most fundamental level of community outreach, everyone must be able to afford to enter the museum, says Joyce Epstein, director of the Johns Hopkins Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships.
"Equity in access," she says, "is the difference between being a really good community resource and a tourist attraction."
To that end, the museum's atrium, called Meet and Greet Street, is free, and will include musical performances, group science projects, juggling displays and other programming.
Museum admission is $10 for adults and $7.50 for kids. School groups price out to $4.50 per child. A two-person annual membership is $40 and a four-person membership is $65. In the future, the museum also plans to institute a "dollar day" at regular intervals.
Port Discovery, 35 Market Place, opens to the public Tuesday with a parade featuring the Ravens' marching band and cheerleaders.
The parade will start at 11:15 a.m. from the National Aquarium in the Inner Harbor and go down Pratt Street to Market Place and the museum.
For an electronic walk-through of Port Discovery, visit SunSpot at www.sunspot.net.
TOP CHILDREN'S MUSEUMS
Here are the world's Top 10 children's museums in terms of annual operating budget, size and annual attendance. Port Discovery's budget and attendance are so far unknown, but it is 80,000 square feet.
1. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis: $15,068,000;
356,000 square feet; 1,217,000
2. Papalote: Museo del Nino, Mexico City: $6,396,000;
136,000 square feet; 1,300,000
3. The Children's Museum,
90,000 square feet; 390,000
4. Chicago Children's Museum: $4,644,000; 69,000 square feet; 594,000
5. Brooklyn Children's Museum: $3,943,000; 36,000 square feet; 212,000
6. Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose: $3,067,000; 52,000 square feet; 299,000
7. Capital Children's Museum, Washington: $3,000,000; 60,000 square feet; 185,000
8. Children's Museum of Manhattan: $2,900,000;
25,000 square feet; 235,000
9. Children's Museum of Houston: $2,866,000; 43,000 square feet; 435,000
10. Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia: $2,478,000;
38,000 square feet; 180,000
SOURCE: ASSOCIATION OF YOUTH MUSEUMS
Pub date: 12/27/98